Eric Clopper, a former systems administrator at Harvard, filed a lawsuit against the University, The Harvard Crimson, and 10 unnamed “donors and alumni” in federal court Monday over the school’s response to a 2018 performance that he held at Sanders Theatre and the newspaper’s coverage of the event.
Clopper, who formerly worked at the language resource center in Lamont Library, accused Harvard and The Crimson of defamation and libel, violating the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, and other actions that justify damages. His complaint also alleged the University violated Clopper’s First Amendment rights.
On May 1, 2018, Clopper held an event at Sanders Theatre aimed at criticizing the practice of circumcision. At various points during the performance, he stripped nude and referred to Jewish people as “an unmasked genital mutilation cult.”
The Crimson reported on May 3 that the University was “reviewing” Clopper’s show. The next day, the newspaper reported that he planned the event during work hours at Harvard. Harvard terminated Clopper’s employment on July 12, according to the suit.
The suit alleged that Harvard “breached the express and implied employment agreement” with him by accusing him “of having acted improperly and threatening to fire him for having worked on the Play occasionally at Harvard.” Clopper also claimed a Sanders Theatre staffer “physically and threateningly” prevented him from returning to the stage to deliver concluding remarks.
Clopper, who is Jewish, alleged in the suit that The Crimson’s characterization of his show as a “nude, anti-Semitic rant” — which appeared in the headline of the paper’s May 3, 2018 story — was “a patent falsehood.”
Clopper brought a number of additional counts against the University: breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, breach of the employment agreement and free speech policy, breach of the contract for Sanders Theatre, tortious conversion, and a promissory estoppel claim.
He also accused The Crimson of interfering with his employment contract and conspiring with Harvard to defame and steal the play. The Crimson is editorially and financially independent from Harvard.
“It is plausible that The Crimson’s defamatory coverage of Clopper’s Play caused Jewish donors and other stakeholders to exert pressure on Harvard via harsh letters, communications, and other quid pro quo arrangements to retaliate against Clopper, which resulted in the loss of Clopper’s profession and other damages,” the lawsuit reads.
Clopper has requested $500,000 in compensation for damages from the defendants.
Crimson President Aidan F. Ryan ’21 declined to comment on the lawsuit. Harvard representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.
—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.